Does Genre Define Form?

This is a hard question, I know, but it’s one I’d like to explore in our blog.

First, let’s define these two terms:

Genre is a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.

Form is the shape or configuration of the writing.

So for the purpose of this blog, genre will be thought of as category of the writing and form will be thought of as the arrangement of the written piece. That being said, I feel that certain genres create an expectation of form. For example, a sonnet. Poetry is the genre, and a sonnet is the form used to create the poem. A sonnet has 14 lines, a volta, a specific rhyme scheme and has the theme of unrequited love. When I see the sonnet form, I expect to see these standards, and when I don’t, I look to see why the author specifically stepped outside of the conventions of form and what statement that makes.

There are more genres than poetry, obviously. And while a sonnet is a form of the genre of poetry, it is not the only model of poetry. On top of that, poems don’t have to just fit into the genre of poetry. Poems can be (and often are) social commentary, personal stories, or unique works of art. They fall into the realm of many genres. Poems can also be put together and constructed to tell a story, which moves the form of poetry into the realm of literature like The Iliad.

There are other genres outside of literature, like a letter, that can seem pretty straight forward. A letter has a specific form – an address, a statement, and a sincere farewell. But this form of letter writing can also be used in a genre outside of writing letters, like the book The Coquette. The Coquette is a story told through letters being written back and forth, giving the reader the role of a voyeur more so, I feel, than in other narrative formats.

Genre can give the reader a clue what to expect from the writing but does not define the writing itself. A letter can become a story, a poem can become social commentary, and so on. Just because there are classic forms that fit these genres doesn’t mean our writing has to be restricted to these genres when we use a specific form.
– Amanda Riggle


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